Enjoy This Amazing FREE Read from Sarah Morgan
Are you looking to celebrate summer with a fun read? Get into the mood with this free short story from author Sarah Morgan!
by Sarah Morgan, author of How to Keep a Secret
The wedding was due to start in twenty minutes and the bride was breathing into a paper bag.
‘I said I was never getting married, and yet here I am.’ She breathed in and out, hyperventilating.
We were sitting on a bench behind the sand dunes, mother and daughter. I could hear the crash of the waves and the shriek of excited children as they rushed along the sand with buckets, spades and slowly melting ice creams. The guests were already gathering on the beach, no doubt wondering where we were. It was traditional for the bride to be late, but right now I wasn’t convinced the bride was going to show up at all.
I tried to be reassuring. ‘You love James. He loves you.’
‘So? It’s not the first time a man has said he loves me.’
‘The other time doesn’t count. You were young.’
I’d never met the man who had crushed her trust under his boot, although she’d told me about him. I knew she’d let that particular heartbreak affect her choices. All I could do was watch, support and hope.
‘What if this is a mistake?’ She looked uncertain and it was difficult to watch because in every other area of her life she was an assured, confident woman. I hated seeing the doubt in her eyes.
‘It’s not a mistake. I think this will turn out to be the best thing you’ve ever done.’ I took her hand. It was cold, despite the sunshine. ‘Think about what your life was like before you met him, and then think about how your life has been since he’s been part of it. He makes you laugh. You talk about everything. Do you really want to throw that away?’
There was a pause and then she shook her head.
‘You are so wise. What would I do without you?’ She looked at the paper bag in her hands and laughed. ‘Most brides carry a posy.’
I laughed, too. ‘Yours is the more eco alternative.’
‘He’ll think I’m not coming.’ She lifted her head. ‘I’ll hurt him. Maybe he’ll give up and leave.’
Was she testing him? Was she thinking to herself If I give you the chance, would you run?
‘James is not going to give up and leave.’ I believed that. I loved James. He’d achieved the impossible. He’d broken through those steely barriers she put between herself and the world. I’d given up hope of ever seeing it happen. She’d chosen to focus on her career, but occasionally she’d let slip that she was lonely.
She worked hideous hours, far too many hours from what I could see, and that worried me. She was all breakfast meetings and conference calls. She wore tailored suits and heels, and slept with her phone by the bed. I didn’t judge. I knew we were different. We’d always wanted different things. I lived in yoga pants and liked to have time to smell the roses, literally. My garden was the most important thing to me. I liked to read, cook good food and enjoy a glass of wine with my friends. I lived a slow, but deeply satisfying life.
When she first mentioned she was seeing someone, I was nervous for her. It was so unlike her to show that level of trust. I was afraid he might let her down, the way she’d been let down before. Then I met James, and could see how right he was for her. I knew this relationship was different, and not only because this was the first time she’d introduced me to a man she was seeing.
He had a warm smile. I liked the way his eyes crinkled at the corners when he looked at her. When she spoke, he listened carefully and paid attention to small details.
He worked as a landscape gardener and we bonded over my struggles with elymus repens, which had crept into my lawn and invaded my flower beds.
While she took a work call in my kitchen, pacing and gesturing, he helped me dig it out.
Later we sat on my small patio in a pool of sunshine, sipping tea and eating fat slices of carrot cake.
James had no family, so he liked the fact that we were close and I liked the way he treated her.
Instead of buying her expensive jewellery, he bought her hiking boots and persuaded her to leave her phone behind and breathe fresh air. I’d tried to persuade her to do the same over the years, but I’d had no impact. Mother and daughter relationships, even close ones, are always complicated. You can suggest, but you can’t overstep. I’d always been careful to respect those boundaries. Until today.
Today I was willing to step further than ever before.
‘This is right for you.’ I stood up decisively, hoping to encourage her to do the same. ‘Think about all the fun you’ve had together. Before you met him, all you did was work. I was worried.’ I tried not to show it, of course. I told myself it wasn’t my business. Independence was important, and her decisions were hers. But when our regular phone calls dwindled from daily to weekly, and from weekly to fortnightly, it was hard not to be anxious.
The day she told me she was getting married I was so surprised I dropped the cup I was holding.
She’d always said she would never get married. She didn’t trust marriage. She didn’t need marriage. She teased me for being old-fashioned. I still believe those vows mean something. I believe promise and commitment are worth something, too. But I was careful not to impose my views on her. I understood that she didn’t want all the traditional trappings. There was no way I could have persuaded her to buy a frothy dress. I didn’t even try.
I’d scare myself, she’d said, when we discussed what she might wear, not to mention everyone around me. I want to keep it low-key.
Another man might have been offended, but not James. He was marrying her, not the dress.
Perhaps she remembered that, because she stood up too and scrunched the paper bag into her handbag. ‘I do love him. So much. Is he still here? I don’t have the courage to look.’
I saw panic in her eyes as it dawned on her that losing him was even more frightening than committing to him.
‘He’s still here.’
He’d better still be here.
I took her hand and we walked to the edge of the dunes. There on the beach, the guests were gathered together in a splash of summer colour. Emerald green silk, red cotton, bare legs, painted toenails, wide smiles. Laughter drifted toward us, carried by the sea breeze.
And there, standing a little apart, gazing out across the sparkling ocean, was James. He was tall, with broad shoulders that suggested he could handle just about anything. He wasn’t a man who was ever going to run and maybe she realised that because her hand tightened on mine and I could feel how anxious she was to get to him.
She slid off her shoes so that she could walk faster, letting them dangle from her fingers as she almost sprinted along the sand. The only way I could keep up with her was to do the same.
He turned, sensing her approach. Although there was a question in his eyes, his smile gave her all the reassurance she needed.
She let go of my hand. Forgot about me.
I saw him take her in his arms and murmur I love you.
I couldn’t hear her reply, but his expression told me she’d said exactly what he needed to hear.
The guests gathered and I stood on this sunlit patch of golden sand, with the sea almost lapping at my toes.
Now that the crisis was averted, I allowed myself a moment to relax.
She looked beautiful.
Her dress was a summery shade of blue, the same colour as the sky.
A few of the guests wore hats. Not formal wedding hats topped with absurd creations, but floppy sun hats worn at a cheeky angle. I’d chosen a buttery-yellow version and added a trailing ribbon that lifted in the breeze.
She glanced over her shoulder and smiled at me. ‘You remind me of a daffodil.’
I knew how much she loved daffodils. I knew how much she loved me.
‘Thank you.’ I hugged her and I could feel the rapid pounding of her heart. ‘He’s wonderful.’
‘I know.’ She eased away. Her eyes were shining. ‘You knew I’d find the courage, didn’t you?’
Maybe in a few years I’d confess that I’d asked one of my friends to block our car in to make escape a little harder. For now, I was making the most of the moment and so was she.
Weddings are always special, but this one was extra special.
They stood hand in hand and I watched, lump in my throat and ache in my heart.
I wanted her world to be perfect, because no one deserved it more than she did. I wanted everything good for her, but it had been the two of us for so long I knew this would be an adjustment.
I kept telling myself that I wasn’t losing her, I was welcoming James into the family.
I brushed away a tear, permitted in my position, and listened as they made their promises to each other.
And then there was kissing, laughter and congratulations.
I knew she’d hate the sterile atmosphere of a restaurant, so I’d opted for a beach picnic and made all the arrangements. Instead of white linen and silverware, we had colourful rugs and beach mats and we gorged on smoked salmon and strawberries, tiny tartlets and succulent chicken, all washed down with chilled champagne.
She stayed close to James the whole time, as if she couldn’t bear to be parted from him even for a moment.
When it was time for the speeches, James went first. He talked about how full and rich his life had felt since he’d met her. He addressed everyone, but really he was talking to her. It was like listening to a love letter read aloud and I wasn’t the only one shedding tears.
Then she stood up, because being a modern bride there was no way she wouldn’t want to have her say.
Chatter ceased, because everyone understood the significance of today. For a moment, the only sound was the rhythmic crash of the waves on the beach and the wail of seagulls hopeful of a feast. And then she spoke.
She spoke about how much courage it had taken to stand where she was standing today. She talked about love and about James. And she talked about me.
She thanked me for taking care of all the small details that had made the wedding special, but most of all for welcoming James so warmly.
‘It’s been the two of us for so long, I wasn’t sure either of us knew how to let another person into our lives. Claire—’ She reached out her hand and gestured for me to stand next to her. ‘No mother could have a more perfect daughter.’
There was applause and more tears, and some of them were mine.
I knew that no daughter could have a more wonderful mother. She’d raised me alone. I knew it must have been hard, but she’d never complained. She’d given me everything, and now I wanted everything for her. Not promotions or power breakfasts, but someone to share her life with. Someone to laugh with. Someone to hold when times were tough.
I kissed them both and then she raised her glass high.
‘To Claire, the daughter of the bride.’
I smiled and lifted my glass too in my own toast. ‘To my wonderful mother.’
About How to Keep a Secret:
When three generations of women are brought together by crisis, they learn over the course of one hot summer the power of family to support, nourish and surprise
Lauren has the perfect life…if she ignores the fact it’s a fragile house of cards, and that her daughter Mack has just had a teenage personality transplant.
Jenna is desperate to start a family with her husband, but it’s… Just. Not. Happening. Her heart is breaking, but she’s determined to keep her trademark smile on her face.
Nancy knows she hasn’t been the best mother, but how can she ever tell Lauren and Jenna the reason why?
Then life changes in an instant, and Lauren, Mack, Jenna and Nancy are thrown together for a summer on Martha’s Vineyard. Somehow, these very different women must relearn how to be a family. And while unraveling their secrets might be their biggest challenge, the rewards could be infinite…
Heartwarming and fresh, Sarah Morgan’s brilliant new novel is a witty and deeply uplifting look at the power of a family of women.